Comstock, the POD and the Battle Against the Lottery

Special Agent of the U.S. Post Office Department

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Comstock is shown arresting an artist for depicting a woman almost totally submerged. "Don't you suppose I can imagine what is under the water?" P.M. Howarth "That Fertile Imagination," Life (1888).

Immediately following the passage of the 1873 Comstock Act, its namesake was appointed as a Special Agent of the Post Office Department to enforce the new laws. Unlike regular postal inspectors, Special Agent Comstock would not be removed for political purposes nor was he involved in the mundane investigations of post offices and postmasters. The Post Office Department greatly relied on Comstock for the enforcement of anti-obscenity laws in New York, and he had a large network of elite postal inspectors as well as thousands of evangelical citizens to assist in his investigations. Due to his strong Christian conviction, Comstock refused to be paid more than an annual salary of one dollar per year. Yet with the Suppression of Vice’s New York charter, Comstock was able to collect a bounty on the fines of those he arrested.

Within a few years Comstock was a firmly divisive figure within his community. He aroused intense loathing from early civil liberties groups but passionate support from church-based groups. Arrests of newspaper men, who bought and displayed advertisements from vice organizations, added to the fury. Civil suits were brought against him in city after city. All but one failed, the complainant of which was owed exactly six cents. Protests were held against him and threatening mail, including an envelope filled with smallpox scabs, was sent to his home.1 Despite the controversy, however, Comstock continued his investigations.

1) Trumbull, Anthony Comstock, Fighter, 23.